Last week, I talked about what a “Lemon” was—not a piece of fruit in this case, but a piece of junk, your new car or truck that the dealer can’t seem to get fixed. This week, we’re going to talk about your first step in getting that lemon bought back.
The first thing to do is to make sure that you’ve made a record of the problems with your car or truck. In this case, the only record that really counts is the set of repair records kept by the dealer. I’m going to be talking strictly about new car dealers, because that is the best source for these types of records. You can have warranty work done by independent mechanics, but it makes a better impression if all of the records we’re going to be talking about come from an actual new car dealer for your type of car—Ford, BMW, Lexus, etc..
Rule Number 1 in making in a record is “more is better”. There is no set number of times you have to take your car or truck in for repairs, but the more times you have taken it in, the stronger your case is. The best sequence is, (1) take in for repairs, (2) drive the car long enough for it to be clear the problem is still there or has come back, then (3) take it back in immediately after that. Sometimes you drive out of the service department and see the problem is still there (that warning light is still on, or the engine still runs rough, or whatever the problem is). In that case, it’s perfectly okay to turn right around and have them try again. Sometimes the problem seems to be fixed, but it comes back weeks or even months later. That’s okay too. Take it back in as soon as that happens.
Rule Number 2 is, “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t count”. The record is only what is actually in the written records at the dealer. You can tell the man or woman in the service drive (usually called a “service advisor”) about a dozen different problems, but if he or she doesn’t write them all down, it isn’t part of the repair history. Here’s where you may have to stand up for yourself. If they aren’t writing down all of the problems you are having with the car, politely, but firmly, insist that they do. Don’t be put off by the “Let’s take one problem at a time” approach. If there are ten things wrong with the car, make sure they write all ten things down, and don’t leave the car until they do. The reason is this--if you take your car or truck in for repairs and don’t have them write down one of the problems, this becomes what I call a “negative record”. In other words, the manufacturer may say that the car must not have been having that problem at that point or you would have complained about it.
Rule Number 3 is, “be clear and specific and consistent”. When you explain to the service advisor what the problems are, make sure you are as clear as you can be as to what you are experiencing. You’re probably not a mechanic, so don’t worry about trying to diagnose the problem—that’s their job. It’s okay to say, “When I’m driving on the freeway, and I push on the gas, the car seems to hesitate before it speeds up”. You don’t have to try to guess if that is a transmission problem, an engine problem, or whatever. Be sure to tell them what it does, when it does it, and how frequently. That covers the “clear and specific” part. The “consistent” part means that you need to use the same description each time. Why? Because part of what you need to show is that you are having the same problem over and over. If you are describing it different ways different times, it’s going to look like different problems, like they fixed one problem and a different one came up, and that’s not going to help you prove that you have a lemon.
Rule Number 4 is, “keep the records”. After you’ve gone to all this trouble to make sure you’ve made a clear record of the problem—make sure you get that record and keep it. Before you leave your car, the service advisor is required to give you a copy of the service record, usually called a “work order” that shows that you left the car with them and what you complained about. Before you sign anything, make sure you read it over to make sure it’s complete and accurate, following the rules I gave you. Also check to make sure the mileage is correct, because that’s part of making a clear record, too. Take that piece of paper with you, and keep it in a file you are going to make that has all of the records about your car. When you pick up the car, they are required to give you another piece of paper, usually called a “Repair Order” or “Invoice” that tells you what they’ve done to your car. Make sure you get that, and keep it too. If you have any questions about what they’ve done to your car, ask them, and make sure you’re getting an explanation you can understand. Make a note, on a separate piece of paper, of the date, time and mileage on the car when you picked it up. Don’t write on the service documents themselves.
Remember, if the problem comes back, take it back immediately.
What’s next? The next thing is getting to ready to see the lawyer, and I’ll tell you about that in my next blog.
See you next time!
© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn